How to Upgrade an HDD to SSD

It can seem overwhelming trying to upgrade computer parts. Especially ones that you are unsure will really improve your situation such as long load times. Look at how we take the steps needed to improve your computer and learn how to upgrade an HDD to SSD

Steps to Upgrade an HDD to SSD

  • Choosing an SSD
  • Back up Files(optional, but highly recommended)
  • Uninstall HDD
  • Install New SSD
  • Troubleshoot if needed

Step 1: Choosing an SSD

Should You Only Upgrade to a SSD, or add an HDD?

Here is a question: do you want faster load speeds or more storage? How about both? 

Modern SSDs are amazing and are definitely worth the upgrade. Moving from a regular drive to an SSD improves load speeds drastically. Your computer will start faster, load apps and large files faster, and decrease that cursed loading screen in most games.

The main issue is that once you get past a TB(terabyte) of storage space, SSDs can get very expensive. 

Alternately, conventional hard drives are slower, but they offer a vast amount of storage for a low price. Some of these can get as high as four terabytes. That is enough to store any amount of games or media without an issue. But is it possible to get the best of both worlds?

You can combine the strengths of both SSDs and hard drives. The big trick here is you can install your operating system on the main SSD while using an HDD for basic storage.

In my setup, I use my SSD for computer boot loading speed and some of the main games I enjoy such as World of Warcraft or League of Legends. 

Mario Kart 64 Intro theme song inserted here.

ALL other games are stored on another device to just hold so it doesn’t bog my computer down at all. This synergy has worked for me for about 5-6 years now and my computer runs smoothly. 

This makes an SSD a very attractive upgrade if you already have the hard drive since you can move the operating system over and “demote” the hard drive to storage duties.   

The main thing to note here is that even though your SSD might have a lot less storage, you don’t need very much to make the computer as speedy as ever.

What Physical Size Should the SSD Be?

Hard drives typically come in two sizes: 2.5″ and 3.5″. The 3.5″ drives are also known as “full size” or “desktop drives.” Pretty much every desktop PC out there has room for at least one (and sometimes many) 3.5″ drives. The possible exception to this is the super-small form factor PCs that can only handle a 2.5″ drive. 

2.5″ drives are traditionally meant for laptops, but will also fit just fine in a desktop PC. Some desktop PCs have built-in mounting points that fit the 2.5″ drives. If yours doesn’t, you’ll need a mounting bracket for one. 

Note that these are usually labeled as “SSD mounting brackets.” This is because all SSDs in the traditional hard drive form are 2.5″ drives. That’s what size you’ll use whether you’re mounting it in a desktop or laptop.

Speaking of SSDs, there is one more form factor to talk about: the M.2 standard. These drives look more like a stick of RAM than a hard drive. Instead of connecting to your motherboard via a SATA cable the way regular drives do, M.2 drives get plugged into a specialized slot. 

If interested in the M.2 drives, you’ll have to determine whether your current PC supports them or double-check that the components you purchase are compatible with the M.2 drives.

What Connection Do I Need?

All modern 3.5″ and 2.5″ drives use a SATA connection for power and data.If you’re installing the drive into a desktop PC, the SATA power cable is a 15-pin cable that runs from your PC’s power supply. If your PC only offers the older 4-pin Molex cables, you can buy adapters that work just fine.

The SATA data cable requires that your motherboard support a SATA connection (all modern PCs do). You’ll find them in slightly different configurations. Some (like the one pictured below) have a straight plug on one end and an L-shaped plug on the other end. 

The L-shaped plug makes it easier to fit into jacks that are closer to other components. Some SATA cables have straight plugs or L-shaped plugs on both ends. You should get SATA cables with your hard drive, but if you’re working in a particularly tight space, be aware that these other options exist.

Another word on SATA drives. The latest revision to the SATA standard is SATA 3.3, and drives and cables are backward compatible with older versions. On desktops, you’ll want to make sure that the drive you are buying is as fast or faster than the connection that your motherboard accepts. 

Most motherboard SATA connections from the last five years have at least 3.0 support. The same goes for the SATA cable you buy. Laptops don’t use SATA cables, so just make sure that the drive you’re upgrading to uses the same SATA revision or newer than the drive it’s replacing.

How Much Storage Do I Need?

The default answer here is “as fast as you can afford.” That said, if you’re upgrading from a hard drive to an SSD, you’re going to be blown away by the speed increase no matter what. 

So you might not want to splurge on the fastest SSD you can get. Getting more storage on an SSD will be more important to most people than getting more speed.

Decide Whether to Transfer Your Operating System or Perform a Clean Installation

You’ve purchased your new drive, and you’re ready to install it. Your next step is to decide whether you want to transfer your operating system to the new drive or just do a clean installation and start fresh. There are pros and cons to each.

Transferring Your Operating System

Transferring your operating system (and all your data and installed apps) means not having to worry about reinstalling Windows, setting it up the way you like it again, and then reinstalling each of your apps. The downside is that it’s a pretty slow and tedious process.

If you’re upgrading from only one drive to another (as opposed to simply installing an additional drive in a desktop), you’ll probably want to transfer your operating system to the new drive instead of installing fresh. 

The bad news is that this is a slow and tedious process. The good news is that it isn’t too hard to do. Most new drives come with tools to make it happen. And if you didn’t get a free tool, there are other ways to upgrade to a larger hard drive without reinstalling windows.

If you use a laptop, you’ll need to use a USB based SATA adapter or enclosure so that you can have both drives hooked up at once. You can go that way with a desktop too.

However, it may be easier just to install the new drive, do the transfer. Afterwards, try to decide whether to leave the old drive in place for extra storage or uninstall it.

Performing a Clean Installation

There are also advantages to just performing a clean installation of your operating system on your new drive. The big one is that you get to start fresh.

No old program installations hanging around; it’s a fresh copy of your OS without the clutter. You get to set it the way you want, and only install what you want.

The downside, of course, is that you have to do all that. While it typically goes faster than transferring your OS to the new drive, doing a clean installation does mean that you’ll have to reinstall the apps and games you want, and restore personal files from backup (or copy them from the new drive). 

You’ll also need to make sure you have access to your applications for reinstallation. If you installed them from DVD or downloaded the installation files, you’ll need to find those—along with any necessary activation keys.

The last thing to note when doing installations for your new drive is if you are upgrading your second hard drive or the main one. In the case of when I upgraded my hard drive to an SSD, it wasn’t the main one. So it was easy to just plug the new SSD in and go. 

But the issue is if you had any game files or folders, pictures, etc; then these will not open properly with the new drive. So just make sure you transfer the things you want to the new drive first otherwise you will have to delete most of the files. 

Price Ranges of HDD’s and SSD’s

Here is a general list of prices for most SSD’s and HDD’s corresponding to their storage amount:

SSD

  • 100GB – 25$
  • 256GB – 40$
  • 500GB – 90$
  • 1TB – 100$
  • 2TB – 200$
  • 5TB – 500$

The more storage the better, but it comes with a hefty price as you move up in storage.

HDD

Most hard drives don’t go under 1TB anymore due to the increasing request for more storage space. There is still a need for 500gb hard drives, but they are very cheap. 

This could be from pictures, graphics, and other large files people store on their computers. So this list will contain much higher storage spaces than SSD’s.

  • 500GB – 10-50$
  • 1-4TB – 50-200$
  • 5TB+ – 200-2000$

Prices for hard drives are very different from solid-state drives as the uses are very different. Just keep this in mind when searching for the right storage device.

Step 2: (Optional) Back-Up Files

If you already know how to complete this step or aren’t worried about losing files, skip step 4! This is optional as some people don’t mind losing what they have on the computer. 

I don’t believe you will lose any files while you upgrade/install a power supply. However, if you are nervous about something going wrong, I left multiple steps here so you can back-up your files.

Some folks are not as partial to losing documents, pictures, or overall apps on a computer. But if like millions of others out there who store and hold on to valuables such as old family photos, important documents, etc. This will be the most useful information to use!

The best way to back up your files is to have an external hard drive such as a USB. Anyone could go as far as to have a larger 1 TB external hard drive to store ALL of the information you need to socket away.

Another way could be doing a backup in windows. You do this by selecting the Start button, then Control Panel System and Maintenance > Backup and Restore.Do one of the following:

  • If you have never used Windows for Backup before, or you upgraded the version of Windows, select Set up backup, and then follow the steps in the wizard.
  • You could have created a backup before. If so you can wait for your regularly scheduled backup to occur, or you can manually create a new backup by selecting Back up now.
  • Finally, If you’ve created a backup before, but want to make a new one; full backup rather than updating the old one. Select Create newfull backup, and then follow the steps in the wizard.

The final way to back up any files would be to create a restore point. You can use a restore point to reclaim a computer’s files to an earlier point in time. These are automatically created each week by System Restore; when the PC detects a change, like when installing a new application or driver. 
Here’s how to create a restore point.

  1. Right-click the Start button, then select Control Panel > System and Maintenance > System.
  2. In the left pane, select System protection.
  3. Select the System Protection tab, and then select Create.
  4. In the System Protection dialog box, type a description, and then select Create.

Restore

  1. Go to the Start button and right-click, then select Control Panel > System and Maintenance > Backup and Restore.
  2. You can do one of these to restore:
  • To restore your files, choose to Restore my files
  • To restore the files of all users, choose to Restore all users’ files

No matter what way you choose to back up the files, either option is perfectly fine. Now let’s begin uninstalling the HDD.

Step 3: Uninstall HDD

So there are a few things to be aware of before we go ahead and uninstall your HDD. The first is that when you replace the hard drive you are currently using, everything is leaving your computer that is on that hard drive. 

This step goes tandem with backing up your files as you must create a backup if you don’t want to lose important files such as pictures. 
This could include:

  • apps you downloaded in that specific location on your computer
  • the boot menu to your computer which could cause some trouble
  • anything else that you have customized for the computer like pictures, backgrounds, etc

If you want to keep those things intact, you are going to need to clone your current HDD so that information can be passed on to your new SSD. I will cover this in another article as the cloning process can be a lengthy one if you are unsure of how to do so.

In essence, we are backing up out files with the HDD, decreasing the amount that is on the HDD if it is over the SSDs capacity. For example, you have a 1TB hard drive with 500GB used but you got a 256GB SSD. You will have to trim the fat down to half of the SSD’s storage for the files to be migrated to the new SSD. 

Follow that up with migrating the files over to the new SSD and then using the backup files if necessary. I am assuming you have already done this. So it is as simple as unplugging the HDD and preparing for the installation process of your new SSD.

Step 4: Install The New Upgraded SSD

Installing Your New Drive 

This process is a bit more involved than on a laptop, but the good news is that getting the case off and accessing the drive is typically a lot easier than on most laptops.

You’ll need a standard Philips-head screwdriver and a SATA cable. If you’re completely replacing a single drive, you can use the SATA cable that’s already in place. Your power supply probably has a free SATA power connection for multiple plugs that are often available. But if not, you’ll need an adapter cable. 

If you’re working in an area that’s particularly prone to static electricity, you’ll want to use an anti-static bracelet as well.

If you built your PC, the screws needed to install your new drive should have come with the case. I hope you kept the box of accessories. If not, you’ll need to get some replacement screws. Finally, you’ll want a bowl or a cup to hold screws.

Power down your machine and remove all the cables connecting to the hard drive you are replacing. Then move it to your work area. This should be a cool, dry spot that’s easy to access, preferably without carpet below you. 

If you know the configuration of your computer’s internal parts, feel free to place it at the most accessible angle. If you don’t know the configuration, just leave it upright as it will give you the most room to work. You may have to take multiple panels off for a full installation.

Every computer case is different so you will just need to make sure whats plugged in and how to shift things around. Best place to start is by just removing all panels regardless if you need to remove them or not. This will help you learn more about the computer you have and also allow easy installation of your SSD and removal of your HDD.

I know, okay, I know this is a lot of info, but we are almost to the best part!

Remove the access panel from the primary side of the case. That’s the one on your left if you’re looking at your computer from the front. Most designs require you to remove two to three screws from the backside before it will slide or swing-out. 

Set the access panel aside. Some desktops require that you take the whole case cover off rather than just an access panel. If you’re unsure, look up your desktop model or case on the web. Instructions should be easy to find.

Take a moment to orient yourself. If you’re working on a conventional desktop you’re probably looking at the motherboard. With the boxy power supply either at the top or the bottom of the case. 

You should be able to see your computer’s storage drive or drives mounted towards the front of the case.

A SATA data cable should be running from the motherboard to the drive.

A SATA power cable should be running from the power supply to the drive.

Show where cord runs from power supply to the SSD

NoteIf you can’t see either a larger 3.5-inch drive or a smaller 2.5-inch drive, it might be mounted in an alternate spot. In newer designs, this is often behind the motherboard itself. Remove the access panel on the opposite side of the motherboard to check.

If you’re not keeping your old drive in your system for extra storage, now’s the time to take it out. You can also leave the cables attached to the motherboard and power supply and then just connect them to the new drive after installing it.

First, unplug the data and power cables from the back of the old drive. There’s nothing too complex about this: just pull it out. Some cables have a little tab locking mechanism you’ll have to squeeze first.

If the drive is on a sliding caddy, remove it (and note that some sliding caddies are screwed into place). Now, just use your screwdriver to remove the screws from the drive, whether it’s in a caddy or affixed directly to the case. 

The screws come in many sizes and lengths that include silicone spacers for sound damping and might be mounted to the bottom of the drive or the side. This depends on your case’s design. It doesn’t matter all that much: just remove them, set them aside in a spot where you won’t lose them.

Your old drive is now free! Set it aside. Be careful with it, but don’t worry too much they’re pretty sturdy.

To install the new drive in place of the old one, you’ll just reverse the process. Put the new drive into the caddie, and then slide it into place on the case (and secure it if necessary).

Now, plug the cables into the new drive. It’s easy to figure out, they only fit one way.

If you’re adding a new hard drive and leaving the old one in place, it’s a bit more complicated. You’ll need to mount the new drive to the case (sliding it into an extra caddy that should have come with your case, if necessary). And, you’ll need to plug in additional cables.

Plug one end of the SATA data cable into the back of the new hard drive and the other end into your motherboard. The motherboard slots are generally on the side closest to the front of the PC, usually in a cluster of two to six. 

It doesn’t particularly matter which plug you use, though you might want to plug it into the top-left one (which is the “0” drive) or the closest one in sequence, just for the sake of organization.

Now plug the SATA power connection from the power supply into the new drive.

If you already had a drive installed, check the power cable coming out of it because they generally have more than one plug and can be used for multiple drives.

If your power supply doesn’t have any free SATA power connections, you’ll need to use an adapter or a splitter.

After that, your drive should be ready to go! Double-check your connections, make sure the cables aren’t touching any heatsinks or bumping up against cooling fan blades, and then replace the access panel on the case.

Move your PC back to its original position, reconnect all your accessories and power cables, and fire it up!

Step 5: Troubleshoot if Needed

I added this section as there is usually troubleshooting to be done just to double-check everything is running as intended. The one thing to note is if your hard drive doesn’t show up as an accessible drive to use. It could look something like this:

In this case, you would want to check out how to add a partition for the hard drive so it will be useable. This can be a lengthy process to explain so I will have another article explain the whole process. The hard drive not showing up is rare but it can happen. 

Finally, if there is anything not working properly just take the necessary action. Other than that, you have completed your goal! Enjoy your new SSD and the lightning-fast load times!